The market as a microcosm

Rama Ariadi / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Artists Chhan Dina, left, and Takakazu Yamada dissect the layers of emotions hidden among Cambodia’s markets. KT/Jean-Francois Perigois

In most societies, markets are the beating heart of the community. They are more than just places of commerce – they are where the majority of people start their day. Among the crush of people that descend upon markets at the break of dawn, there is chatter from people haggling, giggles shared between vendors, even a touch of melancholy that emanates from the sad gaze of beggars that scour the winding alleys for their daily share of sustenance. It is exactly this vibrance that drove Chhan Dina and Takakazu Yamada to pick at their brains and come up with “Market – Disoriented”, a joint exhibition of their works, which opened yesterday at Phnom Penh’s Plantation hotel.

“It took us over a year to come up with the concept and finish all the works that we wanted to showcase,” said Dina. “In fact, both of us only just finished our last pieces last night.”

None of the works exhibited showed any signs that they were completed in a rush – everything seemed to be very well thought-out and curated, which is a not an easy task considering that Dina and Yamada’s styles lie in stark contrast to each other.

The works of Dina – well known for her abstract reimagining of a subject – are characterised with heavy use of oils and the absence of a particular outline, requiring the audience to employ the Gestalt principle to understand, and allowing their imagination to wander.

“I don’t want to be boxed in,” explained Dina. “Each of my works is intended to get people to create their own subjective understanding of the object in question.”

As such, Dina focuses her attention to the use of colours and strokes as well as composition balance to achieve this. In her work, Fishwife, Dina uses a palette knife instead of a brush to create a sense of depth, as well as the illusion of shapes.

“With this particular series, I flipped the canvas upside down when I began each piece,” she explained. “No matter what the orientation, it should look balanced – all of these shapes are there without a reason, it tells a story.”

As soon as one takes a step back, what Dina intended immediately became apparent. From up close, Fishwife looks like an abstract depiction of a fishmonger in a wet market, seated behind her baskets of fish. But from afar, the baskets of fish somehow merge into the outline of the fishmonger – creating the illusion of a flowing sampot sarabap.

“The whole point is that there is beauty everywhere, no matter where we go,” explained Dina. “Even as she sat behind this pile of fish, she remains beautiful and serene, doesn’t she?”

This abstract, emotive approach, lies in contrast to Yamada’s work, which is influenced by Japanese realism and its associated aesthetic. His works are reminiscent of a graphic novel that is set on a large canvas – complete with the clever use of hues that evoke a dream-like nostalgia, an idealised depiction of the layers of emotions that one may encounter in any wet market in Cambodia.

“I always start out with a sketch,” explained Yamada. “I want it to be accurate in form.”

Yet at the same time, Yamada would probably not label it as traditionally realist in style. The technique and the materials that Yamada use are quintessentially Japanese, as he uses pigments that have to be applied in layers to acquire the depth of colour that he wants, before applying a special adhesive mixture to allow the pigment to stick.

“It is a technique that is often employed in Japan,” said Yamada. “So I wanted to apply it with a different subject and see how it allows me to explore the emotions that I feel in Cambodian markets.”

One striking example of the use of Yamada’s technique is Phnom Penh II – a depiction of quintessentially Cambodian urban areas, complete with the precariously stacked shophouses on top of each other, the mismatched facade of which harks back to the 1950s, as well as the ever-present dust that gives the streets a pinkish hue as the sun begins to set.

In Like a Dreamland, Yamada employs the same technique to represent the emotion of a girl in a souvenir shop. Surrounded by shadow puppets, kramas and marionettes, a girl sits with stoic gaze on a simple stool – her mind seemingly deep in a trance of what the future may hold.

“I want to showcase the layers within the society,” said Yamada.

“There are so many people who hawk joy for a living, while they themselves, are quite desperate to survive.”

‘Market – Disoriented’ will be held at La Pergola at Plantation until March 31.

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